Monthly Archives: February 2015

Common Core Conversation

This week I had an interesting conversation with a classmate in one of my other classes that has continued to be on my mind. It was very interesting in light of the conversations that we have been having the last few weeks. My classmate is an education PhD student who does research on the Common Core curriculum. She is a proponent of the Common Core because the goal of it is to raise the standards for children to have them be college ready. Which, okay, fine, I understand that—there are certain skills that we need to have to succeed in college. However, does everyone have to go to college to succeed?

In part due to this GEDI course and in part due to my own opinions on education, I had trouble understanding the side of the Common Core curriculum. I asked a couple of questions and probed a little bit. At one point in our conversation we got to Montessori schools. She said that the students who were attending Montessori schools are not testing at the same level as the public school children on these standardized, Common Core, tests. My question to that was, “so what?” Why does that matter? The argument to my question was that then these children would not be able to succeed in high school or college—that they would not be able to enter/enroll in some of the schools. It has been three days and I am still bothered by that.

I think in many ways it comes back to the idea that to succeed, we must go to college. It also comes back to the notion that one size fits all, though I know that was not her argument. I have trouble seeing how students learning certain concepts that are necessary in life, like writing skills, have to be done at a certain age in their life. Additionally, how might we teach some of these skills in ways that students can learn them through a multitude of learning styles?

In all of our discussions about standardizations and teaching for the test, I keep coming back to alternative models of education. Some of them we have discussed in class or read about, such as schools that use technology and media. Some of them I have written about before, including Montessori schools. But I also keep thinking about the fact that there is such a movement towards homeschooling in our nation right now—in part due to government spending on education, in part due to the testing culture, religious reasons, etc. Overall, I am fascinated by alternative styles of education and within that, I like to read articles and blogs on homeschooling. There was one article that I came across recently that discusses the fact that so many families who are involved with the tech industry in California are choosing to homeschool their children. These families are using the technologies that they work with and live with to enhance their kids’ educations. However, deeper than that, they are taking education into their own hands because it allows more creativity in how and what they learn. It allows for learning problem solving skills and critical thinking on projects. These are all amazing skills to have, especially in a world where have more entrepreneurs and people who can create such change. All of these alternative methods of education, including Reggio Emilia that my peers have been mentioning on their blogs, are more about the skills that students learn than the facts they can acquire. Skills that are transferrable across disciplines, career paths, life goals are things that we need to focus on helping our students learn as much as making sure they know the so-called facts.

Academy of GTA Excellence

As I mentioned in my “Welcome Back” blog post, there is a new Academy of Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) Excellence that the Graduate School developed last fall. It was developed for graduate students to gain more education and training on teaching and learning techniques in addition to recognizing excellent graduate student teaching.

Membership to the academy is for any graduate students and faculty from all Virginia Tech campuses, who are interested in developing and enhancing their teaching and learning knowledge. As graduate students gain experience in teaching and curriculum development, there are additional levels of involvement.

The part that I am most excited about with the development of the academy is developing a larger community of peers to discuss, learn, review and challenge each other on our teaching and learning selves. I think having this network can be beneficial for us all as we move into faculty positions, allowing us to already have a community to challenge and support each other from within similar disciplines and far outside.

Does this sound interesting to you? The Academy of GTA Excellence is having a social and informational session on February 24th from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the University Club. We would love to have you there!





Significance and Montessori in Higher Education

This week as we were discussing mindfull learning and anti-teaching I came across this blog post from an instructional designer at Rice University that discusses some cognitive research on children and how they are being taught and what they do with what they are taught. Even though I found the post a few days ago and tweeted about it then, it has still been playing on my mind. What the research boiled down to is that the children who were explained exactly how the toy worked then proceeded to spend less time playing with it. The children/students were not interested in figuring out other ways that it may work or other things that it may do. In the end the direct instruction limited creativity.

The study reminded me of the readings from this week that discussed practicing lessons to the point of overlearning it and mindlessly accepting information. This allows for when individuals come across a challenge, they do not know how to work around it and come up with a solution without repeating the formula they already learned and had repeated dozens of times. When we force students to learn our way of how things work we are limiting their own creativity. We are also limiting how students will find significance and how they may use the information in the future.

These are ideas and conversations that are not only on-going within Virginia Tech and higher education as a whole, they are also ideas that are constantly floating around in my head. As I have mentioned before (or if you dug deep enough in my blog site) I was involved in a MOOC last semester in which Mike Wesch led the discussion about “Why we need a Why”, in which the discussion brought up the idea of significance. At the time I was a few weeks into teaching a new course to me, and blogged about my student’s view of the significance of the course. This semester, now my second semester teaching this course, my students have found other significance in the course. In particular, they see how knowing and understanding how children and adolescents develop will make them better able to understand human processes as they enter into their careers of hospitality management, education, counseling, physical therapy, computer science, etc. My students are finding significance in the course far outside of the significance I would have gotten from it, which is wonderful and potentially one of the benefits of teaching a social science.

Another way that I try and guide them to find significance in the course that can translate outside of this one class is by guiding them on a semester long research paper. Yes, it is relatively structured in that they have certain portions they have to do within a certain time frame, and they are some-what limited to their topics. However, their topics are broad enough, where they can make it their own, such as bullying and gender. Some choose topics because they were already meaningful to them while others choose them based on what they know the least about, and others have chosen some based on what they think will be most useful to them to know about in the future. This paper allows them to read through the research that is out there on these topics, figure out what is most meaningful, and write a coherent paper. I hope that along the way they learn the skills to repeat the process again and be able to read the literature out there on the topic of child and adolescent development.

One of the topic choices that I give my students is on Montessori method of education. For those of you who have never heard of this approach, here is a short history of it. Maria Montessori was an Italian physician in the late 19th/early 20th century, who spent her career researching childhood education up to age 12 (the last age she studied before dying with plans to go further). Within her educational method, children are able to move about the classroom as they wish and choose the work that will be most meaningful to them at the time. The teacher is a facilitator to their learning. The Montessori method is constantly playing on my mind as to how it can relate to higher education. I would love to develop my thoughts on it more as I continue down the path of teaching in higher education. In part, I think it goes back to not limiting the creativity of students, allowing them to find answers for themselves, working on what speaks to them, and finding significance in the work that they are doing.

Conveyer Belt Teaching

I found this while exploring some of the previous semester’s GEDI blogs: I loved reading about someone’s experience as an outsider visiting my alma mater. I love Hollins and to this day I will occasionally go to Roanoke just to knock on the Dean of Student’s door to chat with her about something. I am also one of the alums who provides a lot of volunteer support to the institution.

It is my experience at Hollins that has led me to where I am today. It also is an added challenge for me as an instructor at a school so different from Hollins. As a graduate student who is also an instructor of record, I do not have an office entirely my own to meet with students. All graduate students who teach share a space. Being more physically accessible for students is something I wish I could do. There are so many ways in which I wish I had the chance to connect with students more. I want to see them grow even past the one semester that I have them in my course. I want to be one of the instructors that is accessible to my students, like I had as an undergrad. I am just not completely sure how to do so when I have a new group of 80 students each semester and am teaching online.

I feel like I am not truly getting to know them. I can see their work, but they are staying anonymous. I feel like all I am doing is helping them check off these CLE classes so they can graduate. I am seeing some growth and development throughout the semester, which is good, but I do wonder how much is sticking with them. If they are struggling with something outside of class, or even something that affects their schoolwork, I often have no idea and very little way of helping them once they leave my class. I guess one way to look at it is I am trying to reconcile some of my small, liberal arts school ideals in such a large university. There is the question posed to students as they are looking for which college to attend about whether they want to be relatively anonymous in a large school with large classes or known fully in small classes and even as an instructor I would love to know my students more fully. I am trying to find ways to do so in these large online classes, but am definitely not satisfied with how I am doing with it and probably never will be.

I found this article as I was thinking about a lot of this recently: I also tweeted about this article. The article discusses how students desire instructors, faculty, and administrators to notice them. To have a human connection with them. The author, James Lang, talks about providing plates of knowledge without truly looking at those we are handing the plates to. In some ways, that is the way I feel. But the analogy that I see is more like a conveyer belt. I deliver the goods to the students and help them check this requirement off of their to-do list. But am I actually reaching them? Is what I do and what I require of them making a difference? How am I to know when I never see or hear from them again?

Last semester I participated in Connected Courses, where in conjunction with the international MOOC, a group here at Virginia Tech met regularly to discuss what was being taught and talked about in the bigger MOOC. It was a group of graduate students and faculty who had a special interest in connected courses. It opened my eyes to a lot of pedagogical discussions I had not previously known about. It also allowed me to begin developing a network of other budding professors who share some of the same values in teaching that I do. I left knowing so much more and having so many ideas, yet not completely sure my what next step with these ideas should be. One thing that I am struggling with is how to use technologies for classes that I am not entirely comfortable with. I think that is something that will be slowly developed over the course of my career.

Something that I did come away with, however, is the acknowledgement of how amazing blogs can be to connect you with people far outside your institution and your discipline. I received a response to one of my blog posts ( that I have really taken to heart. I believe the person was from CSU-Chico, so approximately 3000 miles away from my institution. She said that every time she meets with a student she asks them how they are doing. It’s simple, but it can be so powerful. I am not always great at remembering to do that, but in a similar fashion, I think something that we can do is be more mindful in our interactions with students. One thing that I have been trying to do this semester is thanking the students when they e-mail me a question. I am also being a bit more thorough in explaining why I am asking them to do something. How it benefits them, their classmates, and sometimes, how it benefits me. Those two things have already helped to develop connections with students and we are only a week into the semester. I hope that as things become busier in the semester, I can maintain that, as I see the benefit.